Traditions and Orange Yams
The sub-district where we are now training has a strong attachment to traditional medicine. So strong, in fact, that I have been seriously considering the need for a module on traditional medicine. Outside the health center there is a large, well-tended herb garden, something I would have overlooked or called a flower garden except that one of my trainers, who is aware of all the ways plants are used, pointed it out to me.
It is a result, we are told, of someone bewitching your child and can only be healed by a traditional healer. After the healing has been done, the parent is instructed to take the child to the health center if the symptoms require further treatment.
The people in this area are mainly Bahima, a cultural group of traditional cattle herders, who for reasons that aren't imediately obvious, have no cattle and are attempting to establish themselves as agricultural workers. At this time it doesn’t appear to be much of a success. The matooke (cooking banana) plantations, which are the beloved staple food in the area are not in good shape. People from the central part of the district note that the matooke stems here are short, stunted and the bunches are few and small. And if that weren't enough, this district is also experiencing a menacing banana wilt which has severely decreased crops and continues to do so. There isn’t much need here for the long forked poles which support overweight bunches in other more fertile regions.
I don’t mean to suggest that I can spot this difference in crops myself. Not by a long shot. There are exclamations in the car about how poor the plantations look. Finally I have to inquire, “How can you tell?”
At first they just reply, “Just look at it!”
Poor crops, poverty, persistence of traditional beliefs and poor adaptation to a completely different way of life seem to be related.
We shake our heads over the difficulty of changing people’s traditional diet. I retell the story about hosting a huge party with a groaning table full of rice, potatoes, millet, chicken, roasted beef kabobs, samosas, green salad and a fruit salad of pineapple, passion fruit, bananas and payaya. Afterwards a close friend came to thank me saying, it was a wonderful party except there was no food.
“No food!” I exclaimed, “Where were you? There was so much food, my table almost collapsed!”
Seeing my surprised face she added, “No matooke.”
We both laughed. The attachment of the Baganda tribe in central
Trying to introduce orange yams seem a mad undertaking at first glance, but I have noticed that cucumbers, carrots, okra, cilantro and green peppers that were not grown here before are starting to appear in Mbarara markets. We could really use the beta carotene these orange yams contain especially for children. It would make a whole lot more sense than giving children Vit A capsules every six months as is now done. So I am already thinking about how it might become an income generating project. Maybe if it was started near a swamp or another source of water? One needs to take note of traditional practices but one also needs to move forward.
photos: Orange yam (AKA sweet potato); matooke market; local yams; matooke bunch